Edmonton Storm tackling stigma around women’s football

It’s a cloudy Tuesday evening and the field west of Jasper Place High School is full of action.

The Edmonton Storm of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL) is riding high off a 24-21 victory over the Calgary Rage on May 14, the Edmonton club’s first win of the 2022 season.

Tonight, at practice, the focus is on tackles. Twenty-one athletes line up on the field as defensive co-ordinator Branden Modin calls out drills. Without hesitation, the women take each other to the ground.

“You know so many times, people, they’re asking us if we play lingerie football,” said head coach Shawn Walter. “This is full contact.”

The Storm’s second game of the season is Saturday against the Lethbridge Steel in Raymond, Alta.

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We get to practice with Edmonton’s only women’s tackle football team.

Walter joined the Storm during the pandemic. The 2022 season will be his first as coach. He’s served as WWCFL  commissioner since 2017.

“I think women’s sports is something that’s growing constantly, especially football,” Walter said. “And honestly, there’s not a lot of opportunity.”

The Edmonton Storm is the city’s only tackle football team for women over 18. Players practice twice a week and travel across the Prairies for games. Most of it is on their own dime. Some players have full-time jobs. Some are in school.

“Majority of this team is funded by these players,” said Walter. “A big barrier is just lack of funding.”

This year the team ran a comedy night to help raise funds. Walter hopes the team will grow in coming years, securing more sponsorships and support to help keep it alive.

Defensive back Baylie Kennedy travels from Sylvan Lake twice a week for practice. The trip takes the 21-year old two hours each way after a full day working at a seniors’ care home.

“There’s something about the game that I really like,” said Kennedy. “The hitting, and everybody’s so passionate about it, people are yelling. It’s just a rush.”

Aria McGowan plays quarterback for the Edmonton Storm. She’s been on the team since 2010, and playing football for more than three decades. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

For Aria McGowan, the Storm is a meaningful step on the way to a lifelong goal. The quarterback has been playing tackle and touch football for more than 30 years. She joined the team in 2010. 

“It’s the one game out there where you literally have to trust the person beside you on either side, in front of you and behind you. It’s literally like a human game of chess,” said McGowan.

“It’s just who’s going to move their pieces a little better at the end of the day will win the game.”

McGowan tried out for Team Canada this spring, and hopes to represent Alberta and Edmonton on a national stage. But the first full season back on the field is reason enough to celebrate.

“It’s like your birthday every single day,” she said. “Just being able to get out there and be with your teammates and get to hit somebody legally as hard as you can … to a point.”

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